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Saga of a Defunct Airport


Photo: Shutterstock

By RICARDO CASTILLO    

It’s official: The “pharaonic” construction of the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) was announced defunct last Dec. 27

The cancellation of the ongoing construction comes four years after former President Enrique Peña Nieto, along with the Mexico City Airports Group – in charge of building – announced its beginnings. The decision was announced by the new Mexican administration under President Andrés López Obrador (AMLO), who pleaded during his 2018 presidential campaign to cancel the “corruption-ridden” project. Construction was allegedly at 30 percent of the total.

The announcement came after the new administration settled a conflict that arose from the private investment of $6 billion dollar bonds and New York. investors immediately got $1.6 billion back. The remnant will be liquidated in $200 million yearly installments. Not paying would have brought a suit since the construction would have been declared in default.

After the cancellation was announced, the Mexico City Airports Group announced continued limited construction, only to solidify what had been built, including part of the foundations for the main building.

The airport was announced on Sept. 1, 2014, during the second State of the Nation Address by President Peña Nieto. Two days later, it was made public that British architect Norman Foster would design the project and that entrepreneur Fernando Romero, the son-in-law to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, had won the contract to design and lead the $13.3 billion airport construction.

A bit over a year later, National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed the construction of two landing lanes at the existing military Santa Lucía Military Airport, just north of Mexico City, instead of continuing the construction of the New International Mexico Airport.

Two years later, when AMLO obtained his registration for presidential candidate on Dec. 12, 2017 – with construction already underway –  the then-candidate announced that, if he won the presidency, he would cancel the work and instead carry out his plan for the Santa Lucía airport.

A response from tycoon and main constructor Carlos Slim did not come swiftly. He began defending the new airport construction at the Texcoco dry lakebed on April 16, 2018, with the electoral campaign already underway. Slim asked AMLO be open to options other than the one of having the Mexican federal government foot the bill for the mammoth project.

On May 7, 2018, already in the fray of the election, AMLO said that, if elected, his administration would be willing to award the works in concession to private investors (namely Slim.) This proposal stayed open until AMLO, on August 17, and already as president-elect, announced that the construction of the Slim-backed airport would be subjected to a public referendum.

On Aug. 24, AMLO unexpectedly made public the Master Plan for the Santa Lucía Airport, to be headed by construction entrepreneurs headed by Grupo Riobóo, belonging to contractor José María Riobóo, who headed several major Mexico City roadworks while AMLO was Mexico City mayor.

The referendum on whether to continue construction of the new airport at Texcoco lakebed or go for the Santa Lucía option was carried out between October 25 and 28. The final tally was that 69 percent of the participating less than a million voters opted for Santa Lucía. AMLO announced the result on Oct. 29, as well as the definitive cancellation of the New International Mexico Airport construction project.

President Peña Nieto promptly warned that construction would not be stopped until the last day of his mandate, on Nov. 30, and that the suspension would require added tax resources.

On Dec. 2, the Treasury Secretariat announced the purchase of $1.8 billion in airport bonds, but at the same time the construction company announced work would continue.

Finally, on Dec. 19, after three weeks of fake news and uncertainty, the Treasury Secretariat announced its proposal for bond repurchasing had an overwhelming approval by investors, bringing to an end Slim’s dream of owning Latin America’s largest airport.

The official notice of the much-touted airport came on Dec. 27, bringing to an end what every backer foresaw as the dream international hub Mexico deserved, but which AMLO said the nation could not afford.

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